Protests in Madison have been ongoing for twelve days, and show no signs of stopping. Madison police estimate that 10,000 people turned out to protest last Sunday, and yesterday, protesters from police abolition movement Freedom Inc painted “Defund the Police” in front of Madison’s municipal building.
On the first three days of protests, a small number of rioters smashed windows and destroyed property downtown. But since then, protests in Madison have continued, day and night, with little incident or property damage.
Some people are there to defund the police department. Some are there because they want Matt Kenny, an officer who shot 19-year old Tony Robinson five years ago, fired. Some are there for civilian oversight of the Madison Police.
Now, Madison leadership is poised to implement the last of those measures.
On the top of the list is a civilian review board to oversee the police department, and an independent auditor to review police department incidents and procedures.
Those new roles would be the result of nearly five years of work, including a $400,000 consultant report, which took a year and a half to deliver 146 recommendations for changes to the MPD.
Last fall, a civilian-led review committee released its own final report, recommending 177 changes to the Madison Police Department. That report was accepted by Madison’s city council in January. Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway had already included a main ask — the inclusion of an independent auditor to review the Madison Police Department — in the city’s budget last fall.
Tonight, the City Finance Committee is discussing proposals for a civilian review board and an independent auditor.
But there are differences between the job posting and how the citizen-led review committee described the position for an auditor.
Instead of reporting directly to a civilian review board, the auditor would now report to the mayor, who lacks subpoena power.
An initial job description did not include other details that came recommended by the citizen-led Policy & Procedure Review Ad Hoc Committee, including a requirement that the auditor not be someone previously employed by the Madison Police Department.
An updated version posted today has restored that language, but it still lacks subpoena power. According to Madison Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway, that’s because of city law.
“Under the city’s ordinances, you can’t vest subpoena power into a person, you can only vest it into a committee,” says Rhodes-Conway. “I think the appropriate action is to have the civilian oversight committee have subpoena power, providing more transparency, more democratic control, and prevent against any misuse of that power.”
Rhodes-Conway says that the reason the police auditor would report to the mayor instead of the review board is because that’s how all department heads work. She says the details of the review board will still need to be decided by the Common Council.
But some of the former members of the Ad Hoc Committee say that the auditor reporting to the mayor could be a threat to the independence of the position. One member, Matthew Braunginn, says the committee’s recommendation was a precaution.
“We didn’t want it to be too reliant upon who the mayor was,” said Braunginn. “My understanding is that it’s set up like any other city manager position, and I understand that view from the city government in not wanting to rock the boat. At the same time, this is such a unique circumstance. Not every city manager is conducting oversight of an entity that, quite literally, is in the business of life and death.”
The Finance Committee Meeting began meeting virtually on Tuesday at 4:30.
The Madison City Council will discuss the auditor position, and the creation of a civilian review board, next Tuesday.